In 2018, Forbes listed Kylie Jenner, of Kylie cosmetics and reality TV fame, as one of the richest 'self-made' people in America.
However, the (then) 21-year-old's nomination stirred up a controversy about what the tag 'self-made' really meant. Many felt that considering she is part of the Kardashian clan and has appeared on her step sisters' unnecessarily famous TV show from age 13, the cosmetics moghul is barely on her own and that Kim Kardashian's star-power was enough to propel young Kylie forward, not to mention her family wealth.
When people use the 'self-made' tag, it's usually associated with people who built their way up with almost none or minimal wealth to start, and is usually associated with the other richest people in the world - Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates. We've all their viral 'origin' stories, of how they started their companies in garages and it then grew from small businesses to the world-dominators they are today. But were these companies really self made?
A week or so ago, a journalist tweeted about how Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in his garage, in 1994.
On this day in 1994: Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos in his garage. pic.twitter.com/vtlu570KeX— Jon Erlichman (@JonErlichman) July 5, 2020
A psephologist pointed out however, that while he did in fact start it from his garage, his parents had invested almost 250,000 dollars in the company.
Cute propaganda. In reality Bezos's mommy and daddy gave him $245,573 to stop Amazon from failing in 1995, but you'd never know it from listening to our right-wing mainstream media that blames poverty on personal failure and attributes wealth to personal virtue. https://t.co/vM15SKIcWs— Aidan Smith ⧖ (@AidanSmith2020) July 6, 2020
Aiden's shot wasn't in the air. In 2018, CNBC had found that Jeff's parents, Jackie and Mike Bezos invested $245,573 in Amazon in 1995.
Jeff Bezos wasn't the only one who had a one-up from destiny - Bill Gates, whose inspiration story we're told as someone who "dropped out of college," also conveniently misses the fact that his mother was already in a position of power, and influenced IBM to hire Microsoft.
You can find this in the backstory of almost every billionaire. The story of Bill Gates is told as if he was a normal guy who dropped out of college to pursue his dream when in reality his mom Mary Gates, the president of United Way, convinced IBM to hire Microsoft to build an OS pic.twitter.com/OOX1ELjMLb— Aidan Smith ⧖ (@AidanSmith2020) July 6, 2020
This too is confirmed in a New York Times report, as Mary Gates, had enough leeway to convince IBM to invest in her college-dropout son's company.
It's also not just people from the 90's, even in recent times, 'self-made' billionaire Mark Zuckerberg also had more than just fate and skills to help him along, he had the nudge of his wealthy parents.
Even if you’re not born to mega-celebrities it really can’t be stressed enough how much a leg up children of the wealthy get even indirectly. Mark Zuckeberg’s wealthy parents sent him to Phillips Exeter Academy (tuition: almost $57,000 for boarding)...— Aidan Smith ⧖ (@AidanSmith2020) July 6, 2020
...wouldn’t have had the same opportunities as he did. Remember: People took such an interest in Zuckerberg to begin with because he already entered college with the reputation as...— Aidan Smith ⧖ (@AidanSmith2020) July 6, 2020
a computing prodigy, which, again, couldn’t have happened if his parents didn’t hire a software developer to tutor him. The benefits of having wealthy parents, even if they don’t give you a 1/4 million as Bezos’s did, can’t be underestimated. There is no fair playing field.— Aidan Smith ⧖ (@AidanSmith2020) July 6, 2020
Mark Zuckerberg had actually confirmed this in a 2010 interview to The New Yorker.
While them having an already early start to their respective companies doesn't take away from their achievements, because that does require skill to be successful, it does raise the question of what we qualify as 'self-made,' and if we make exceptions for some people, and leave out others according to our standards of what we hold as 'achievements.'